Wednesday was the best day of the Olympic Trials so far, and it may remain that way through the end.
Day 3 in Omaha at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials had 12 roster spots to award – doubling the first two days combined. After the youth was the big story on day 2, especially National Age Group Records by Katie Ledecky, Kevin Cordes, and Ryan Murphy, day three will continue that streak but in a bit of a different vein.
That’s because to this point, each of the 6 event-final winners thus far are returning Olympians. We’ve seen some new blood in swimmers like Claire Donahue, but none that have been able to break through and win.
That streak was broken on Wednesday, with two of the four winners being brand-new Olympians for the US (though even at that, their experience is vastly different).
On top of that, we’ll see a Lochte-Phelps final in a race where they were very well-matched.
Women’s 200 Free Semifinal
In the first women’s 200 free semi-final, there was an expectation that Dana Vollmer, swimming out of lane 4, would have a good swim and push the pace. That didn’t really happen as hoped. She didn’t look bad, but in a great closing 30 meters, she got locked in a battle between Shannon Vreeland and Megan Romano, teammates from Georgia. Vollmer didn’t have the energy (or the desire?) to fight them off at the end.
Vreeland ended up winning the heat, with a 2nd seeded overall time of 1:57.78. Vollmer was just behind in 1:57.81, and Romano was 3rd in 1:57.81. They were the 2-3-4 seeds overall.
But in the 2nd heat, Allison Schmitt had no trouble pushing an early pace. She dominated the second heat with a 1:55.59 to take the top overall speed. There’s a chance she went out too fast, but then again I think that’s where she needed to be if she wants to keep up with the best of the world.
Missy Franklin was 2nd in that heat, but didn’t get bated into showing too much. We’d find out later after her American Record in the 100 back, that she played this like few veterans in the world could, at only 17. She cruised in to a 5th seed in 1:58.04, saving enough energy for the later race.
Lauren Perdue, just a few months off of back surgery, continued to amaze by placing 7th in 1:58.28. The last finalist, almost unnoticed, was Chelsea Chenault in 1:58.64. That locked out 15-year old phenom Katie Ledecky from the final by just .02. With that kind of speed, Ledecky is dangerous.
Men’s 200 Free Final
Ryan Lochte did what Ryan Lochte has been doing throughout this meet. He controlled the race, and had a huge wall coming into the final 50.
But this time, Michael Phelps decided that the race wasn’t decided based on who is winning at 165 meters when those first strokes are taken coming from the last wall. It’s not even decided with two meters to go. It’s decided only once: at the 200 meter mark. Lochte’s head was ahead of Phelps’ as they disappeared behind the blocks into the closing inches of this 200 free, but Phelps still lit up the scoreboard first, as he’s so good at doing.
Phelps got his finger-tips to the wall in 1:45.70, with Lochte touching 2nd in 1:45.75. The two tied with identical 26.59’s on the last 50.
Still, as exciting as the race was, the times will come off as a bit disappointing. Phelps was actually faster at the Columbus Grand Prix by .01 seconds. That’s usually his mid-season rest-meet, but that shows us where he’s at in his training – more of a “rest” mode than a big taper. Lochte is likely in the same boat. France’s Yannick Agnel has been faster than those two times three-times already this season.
Ricky Berens, meanwhile, had a dreadful third 50 – almost the slowest of the entire final. But after that last turn, he showed that the East Coast isn’t the only place that can put up killer third 50. Representing the West Coast, he blew by three competitors to land himself on the medal stand in 1:46.56.
And nabbing his second guaranteed spot in the meet, Conor Dwyer was 4th in 1:46.64. That put two Florida Gators at least into this 800 free relay.
Swimmers who are also likely to swim at least preliminary heats are Matt McLean, doing a great job to make his first Olympic Team, in 1:46.78; and Charlie Houchin in 1:46.88. They were both really shooting for spots in that 400 free, but I think both far outdid most expectations and got their Olympic rings.
Davis Tarwater was 7th in 1:47.02, just missing his first Olympic Team by one spot – a situation he’s unfortunately familiar with after 2008, where he was 3rd in the 200 fly. Michael Klueh rounded out this A-final, finishing 8th in 1:48.29.
Women’s 100 Back Final
Natalie Coughlin very nearly did what nobody was expecting her to do. She did everything she could. She took out this 100 back like she normally does – hard – but even this was unusual for her. She opened the race in 28.50. She held it together fairly well, but ultimately came up just short in 1:00.06 (the only time she was out faster than that was the old U.S. Open Record of 58.97).
That’s a bit of foreshadowing with the “old” record. That’s because Missy Franklin, in 4th place at the turn, roared-home like a freight-train to take the win in an American Record, U.S. Open Record, 17-18 National Age Group Record, and an overall incredible swim in 58.85.
That’s puts her 4th on the all-time list, and is the fastest ever swum in a textile suit (bettering Jing Zhao’s 58.94 from 2010).
What can’t be overlooked is that this was done about half-an-hour after her 200 freestyle.
Coughlin will now be off of the Olympic Team in an event where she was the two-time defending gold medalist. Yes, she could make it in the 100 free for a relay; yes we should expect her to swim the 50 free at the end of the session as well, but even if she made the team in one of those two events, it just wouldn’t feel the same.
Rachel Bootsma couldn’t match her early-round speed, but was 2nd in 59.49. That means the average age of the two American swimmers in this event at Trials will be 17.5. That’s probably close to a record.
Olivia Smoliga was 4th in 1:00.46.
Men’s 100 Back Final
Matt Grevers is the next in a long-line of American backstrokers – after winning four-straight Olympic gold medals, Aaron Peirsol’s retirement left a bit of a vacuum. But Grevers, despite a tough two-year run, is the defending silver medalist from Beijing. But his swim tonight is even faster than Peirsol ever was, in textile at least.
Grevers won the race in 52.08, which is the best time ever done in textile and the second-fastest in history, period, after Peirsol’s World Record (.14 faster).
This race was a no-doubter, as Grevers led the whole way. With his 6’9 frame, nobody was going to out-touch him here. It’s a story of perseverance.
The battle for 2nd mirrored many that Nick Thoman and David Plummer have had in the last two years, swimming neck-and-neck down the pool. Neither started particularly hard, but they finished amazingly. Thoman came-from-behind to swim a 52.86 to make the Olympic Team, and Plummer was 3rd in 52.98.
Ben Hesen, a former NCAA Champion in this race, ended up 4th in 53.03. That’s a lifetime best for him by three-tenths.
Those four now leave the Americans sitting 1-3-5-6 in the World Rankings this year.
No new Records for Ryan Murphy in this final with a 53.92 for 6th overall; that will leave the 15-16 National Age Group Record at 53.76.
Women’s 100 Breast Final
Breeja Larson, in the women’s 100 breaststroke, gave us the best Olympic Trials moment to date in Omaha.
First, a backstory for those who don’t follow college swimming closely: This is Breeja Larson’s first long course taper. You read that right: she has never tapered in long course before.
She didn’t begin swimming seriously until her junior year of high school. Texas A&M’s Steve Bultman had the eye to grab her out of Arizona. By the end of her freshman year in college, she was a 58.5. By the end of her sophomore year in college, she was the fastest 100 yard breaststroker in yards history in 57.71.
Last summer, the anticipation was huge, but some serious illness issues meant that her summer was basically ruined.
This summer, she was on the Olympic Team, with a 1:05.92 to win. After that, she threw all Olympic Trials decorum to the wind, and sprinted over to her coach and teammates in the stands and hugged anybody in sight. As I sit here and write this recap, half-an-hour after the last race and an hour after her swim, she’s still signing autographs. Simply an amazing time, from a swimmer who hasn’t been around long enough to learn anything other than to soak in every ounce of the moment.
Now for the nuts and bolts. She has a huge pullout, derived from her pre-swimming activities. In addition to swimming (she only started her high school team as a sophomore) she also lettered in softball and track & field. She’s very tall, and she’s powerful.
That’s the highest-finish ever by a Texas A&M swimmer at the Olympic Trials (behind Cammile Adams’ 400 IM 3rd-place finish earlier in this meet), and the second-straight quadrennial that they’ve put a swimmer on the Olympic Team.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Soni, the sure-fire favorite in this race, had a bad finish and took 2nd in 1:05.99. That’s not even her best time this year, meaning that Larson ranks 2nd in the world and Soni is still probably the Olympic favorite.
Jessica Hardy was the tough-luck third-place swimmer, with a 1:06.53 for 3rd. That is four-tenths slower than she was at the Indy Grand Prix, and more disappointment. She should still make the team in the 100 free, and probably the 50, but after saying she had given up on this race at one point, I think it really hurts her to not make the team.
Those three are the three-fastest in the world this year.
Just about everyone in the 4-8 spots had a great race in one round or another of this 100 breaststroke, but Ellyn Baumgardner had the best in finals with a 1:07.19. That’s a full-second drop off of her best time coming into this meet. Annie Chandler was 5th in 1:07.28, which was by far her best chance at making the team. She’s already said that she’s retiring after this year, and barring a big surprise in the 50 free or 200 breaststroke, she’s probably ending her career here in Omaha.
Men’s 200 Fly Semifinal
Bobby Bollier slow-paced this men’s 200 fly early, but he continued winning long course races, with a 1:56.06. That’s his best time since 2009. Davis Tarwater didn’t let the disappointment in the 200 free earlier in the session, came back and took 2nd here in 1:56.10. I don’t think that this is the race that people expected him to make the team in 1:56.10.
The 2nd heat was by-far the fastest, and Phelps was 3rd in the heat, and overall, in 1:56.42. Tyler Clary was 4th in 1:56.56. This tight-seeded final will be one of the best of the meet (and most unpredictable).
Tom Shields just missed this final, with a 1:58.75 for 9th.
Women’s 200 IM Semifinal
Sometimes, coach knows best. Paul Yetter, head coach of T2 Aquatics swimmer Liz Pelton, decided to scratch his 18-year old protege from the 100 back final where she was the 4th seed. Instead, he decided she should focus on the 200 IM that was not far after – a move that he was criticized for.
I don’t think she was getting to a 59-low in the 100 back, but she did not fail to impress in the 200 IM and made Yetter look like a genius, as she took the top seed in the semi’s in 2:11.37, winning the first heat and taking the 2nd-seed overall.
It’s going to be very obvious tomorrow when she’s swimming next to Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz (top seed – 2:10.51) that her breaststroke is where she needs the most work, but Pelton’s closing freestyle leg was outstanding (30.91 – only swimmer better than 31).
Elizabeth Beisel (2:12.27) and Ariana Kukors (2:12.32) are both in the same boat as the 3 and 4 seeds, respectively. They need to get out way better on the front-half to make the team in this event.
Maya DiRado, Jana Mangimelli, Jasmine Tosky, and Celina Li topped off this final, with Tosky (even on a second swim of the session) looking as good as she has this week.
Whitney Burnett just missed in 2:14.17, and she told Garrett McCaffrey after the race that this was the last time she’d ever swim the 200 IM.
Full session results available here.